The announcement that two nuclear power plants have been approved for construction in Georgia is likely to be the biggest energy news of the year.
The most obvious reason is that it will add clean and dependable baseline energy to Georgia’s power mix for close to a century. Each AP 1000 reactor will produce about 1,154 megawatts of electricity. As Georgia is one of the top consumers of electricity in the country, and because much of their electricity is provided by coal, this is welcome news. The two new reactors will provide more than a quarter of the state’s electricity needs. Georgia consumed about 1 quad in energy in 2009, and they burned about 1 million short tons of coal in getting it.
However, despite Scientific American’s protestation in the linked article above, the larger impact is in breaking the logjam in getting new nuclear back into our energy mix. These two plants are the first to be approved since 1978. Nuclear currently provides about 20% of our electricity, but a lot of the existing fleet of plants are aging and need to be replaced. We also should seriously consider commissioning more nuclear plants to increase their overall percentage of our portfolio of fuels.
This may sound a bit strange–the DOE EIA projects that America’s long term energy consumption is not going to increase dramatically–from last year’s 98 quads to between 105 and 111 quads in 2030. However, if we are smart, the mix of fuels used to provide that energy will change drastically during that period, and in ways that the EIA doesn’t seem to take into account.
The next time mileage averages are published for the U.S. fleet, expect to be surprised at how much better mileage the country is getting as a whole. More hybrid cars are being sold, conventional cars are responding to their competition by arriving equipped with more fuel efficient engines, and all-electric cars are starting to arrive on the lots of dealerships.
It will take time for electric cars to have an impact–between 15 and 30 years. And that’s being optimistic about improvements in battery technology. And realistically, all-electric cars will do better in some regions than in other, colder ones. But as the fleet begins to change over to electric (and it will–government fleets, rental companies and large corporations looking to burnish their reputation will essentially make the market), we will begin to use less oil and more electricity.
It’d be a pity if that electricity was coming from a coal-fired plant.
The two new nuclear plants just approved are part of a roll-out of five new plants in total (well, one isn’t new–it’s just been tied up in the regulatory jungle for a long time). If we got the science and the safety right (not a trivial question), then this could be the start of something big.